Maggie Nelson on Climate Change and Hopelessness
In Conversation with Jordan Kisner on the Thresholds Podcast
This is Thresholds, a series of conversations with writers about experiences that completely turned them upside down, disoriented them in their lives, changed them, and changed how and why they wanted to write. Hosted by Jordan Kisner, author of the new essay collection, Thin Places, and brought to you by Lit Hub Radio.
In this episode, Jordan talks to Maggie Nelson about her new book On Freedom, on the necessity of letting go, hopelessness being a prerequisite to a certain kind of spiritual freedom, and how to structure an octopus the size of a city block.
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From the episode:
It seems fairly true that humans, like all species, will have their day and then they will not have their day. In that chapter about climate change, I talk about when people say, “Have hope for the human species! Have hope that the experiment will go on!” Of course I want that. I mean, we don’t know yet of another planet with this spectacular and astounding life. Not ours—all of it. And of course there’s deep hope that it will go on. It’s extraordinary, and it’s everything to us.
That chapter, though, is kind of experimenting with, are there ways in which the intensity of that hope might actually be impeding climate action? Because we’re so terrified that if we hear somebody say, “We’re past the point of no returns” or “Humans will eventually die out any way,” that we’ll be so catastrophized in the feeling of hopes let down. Which I think is what you’re talking about when I talk in the book about hopelessness as a kind of portal to something else. There are certain ones that maybe you can let go of, and then the Morton line at the end of that chapter, he’s talking about a negative hope, like the idea that the world’s about to end, but he says that action on the real Earth depends upon letting go of our fear that life on Earth is about to end. There’s a way in which hopelessness can be like a coming down to earth.
This episode is brought to you by the House of CHANEL, creator of the iconic J12 sports watch. Always in motion, the J12 travels through time without ever losing its identity.
Original music by Lora-Faye Åshuvud and art by Kirstin Huber.
Maggie Nelson is the author of several books of poetry and prose, most recently the New York Times bestseller and National Book Critics Circle Award winner The Argonauts. She teaches at the University of Southern California and lives in Los Angeles.